Big Sioux River (Sioux Falls)
|Stretch:||Sioux Falls Park|
|Difficulty:||Class IV to V-|
|Flows:||~400 cfs to ~1,500 cfs. (1,200 felt like a medium low flow for a class V boater). Check out the American Whitewater releast schedule|
|Gradient:||270 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Above the first falls at Sioux Falls Park|
|Take-out:||Below the final ramp at Sioux Falls Park|
|Shuttle:||Walk 0.1 miles up and 0.1 miles back to your car|
|Season:||Spring to Fall from rain…|
|Featured in A Wet State #142|
Jobless Summer 2019 Roadtrip:
Day 37 – Glacier National Park
The morning after the Elk River, I woke up early and hit the road, crossing the border into Canada by 8 am. I got breakfast in Whitefish before heading into Glacier. I wasn’t really feeling hiking knowing that I would have another 6 hours of driving or so after, so instead I just took the “Road to the Sun” up and over Glacier and took in some of the roadside sights before continuing on my drive. That night I ended up in the middle of Montana, sleeping on a dirt road in farmland.
Day 38 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The next morning I woke up and continued driving. I had something like 4.5 hours to get to the National Park. I got into the area around 2 and went to the visitor center before heading up the road to drive through the park. There are hikes at this park, but honestly the hikes don’t seem to show you a lot more than what the road does, other than perhaps a greater chance for wild life. This National Park was actually sorta so so in my mind. It was the escape for Teddy when he was in his 20s, after his mom and wife died on the same day. He established multiple ranches on the land and developed a connection with the wild places. This place is therefore credited with being the inspiration behind making Teddy “the conservationist president.” The park itself is a badlands, though less impressive than Badlands National Park in South Dakota. But, if you are looking for an excuse to visit North Dakota, this fits the bill nicely. The Park does charge for entry.
This night, I ended up camping just outside the park at a pay campsite.
Day 39a – Wind Caves National Park
In the morning I woke up and began working my way south, quickly realizing that South Dakota was prettier than North Dakota and eastern Montana. I also drove through the Sturgis bike rally, which is something that I never knew was a thing. But holy heck that is a lot of bikers. Anyways, I got to the Black Hills which is home to Wind Caves National Park, Mt Rushmore, and Custer State Park. I only went to Wind Caves as Mt Rushmore seems so opposite to the National Park and Forest services credo. This mountain was destroyed… I didn’t want to give patronage to that.
Wind Caves was cool. Though it is just a cave. The Park itself was free to enter, but you had to pay for tours of the cave. Apparently it is one of the largest cave systems in the world, and home to 95% of the boxwork which is flat mineral structures caused by cracking rock that is then filled in with the minerals over time. It was cool, next time I think I would do the 4 hour spelunking tour rather than the 1.5 hour walking tour.
Day 39b – Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is only about an hour and chance from Wind Caves, so my plan was to drive there and find a place to camp. Once there though, I found out that all of the camping is on the opposite side. So instead I drove through the park, taking some photos, and realized that like the Teddy Roosevelt Park, there aren’t really many hikes to show you anything that you can’t see from the road. So after spending two hours driving around, I continued down the road to the first campsite I could find. On the way, I was actually a little disappointed to find that I missed out on the open hours for a Minuteman Missile Museum. I worked on that missile system when I was a “rocket scientist” out of college. Of course, I worked on the modern iteration of it, but it would have been cool to go to a museum about it. Oh well, next time.
Day 40 – Sioux Falls
One of the original routes for the road trip was to do St Francis in MO and then this run the following day on days 1 and 2. Due to lack of flow on the St Francis and too high of flow here, we rerouted to Colorado and I wrote this run off. I assumed come August on my return drive there would be no chance this run would still be in. To my surprise throughout the trip it had actually remained too high. So high I thought there was no chance it would drop in time. To my surprise though as I checked flow while camping the previous night, I see it took a big drop down the previous day and dropped to 800 cfs, where as American Whitewater had 1,000 as the high limit and 200 as the low. So it was in!
Waking up in the morning I rechecked flows and found overnight rain brought it up to 1,200 cfs. This certainly made me nervous since I was going to be solo on this, and waterfalls and pour-overs solo is probably not a great idea. But, the river was on my way so there was no harm in checking it out.
Upon arriving I found immediately it did not look too high at all. The bottom drop looked full for sure, but the main falls still had a broken curtain telling that the hole at the base would not be strong. I took time and scouted each section to ensure there were lines and it was safe enough to do solo. The main falls has rocks in the landing in the middle, Grady ran to the right of them, for me that landed in 4 feet of foam that looked disgusting so I scouted a left line off the main falls. The bottom slide at river level had an obvious and easy enough window on the right around the powerful hole. And the lead in had a nice line too. So I opted in.
It was quite something, I don’t like the attention, but so many folks were inquisitive as I walked up. I tried to not make eye contact as to not encourage the engagement. I quickly put on and ran the first small falls into the pool above the main falls. I could see people running downstream to get a view, I also laughed at the foursome taking a selfie with no clue I was behind them, I am sure in hindsight their pic turned out awesome. After I came through the main falls, the hoots and hollars were fun, but honestly the best thing, the only people I engaged with, were the little kids who came running up as I took out just below to give me a high five. I wish I had a pic or video of that, as it was a fun moment for sure.
Anyways, be aware, you may get questions about legality. But this has been documented by AW and with the Sheriff’s office as legal. If you swim out of your boat, then you will be breaking the no swimming ordinance, but for kayaking there is no rule. With that said, I am sure all it takes is one shit show to make a rule appear so please boat carefully and in control!
In all, this run though short is completely worth it if you are passing through. Though, it is so short it isn’t worth going out of your way to. Though I could see a super fun race on this, if there were more boaters nearby anyways. Maybe one day. For the record, I had a little over 1,150 cfs and I thought that was low. Nowhere near high. I bet at flows below 700 or so you can’t run the main falls, I just can’t see it keeping enough water. I bet that is when people use the small far left channel. But who knows.
That night, I drove to Lincoln Nebraska to visit a friend from childhood and her family.
Day 41 and 42 – Drive
Well, that basically wraps up the trip. Day 41 I drove for 8 or so hours to where I had a client office. Yup, already back to work, but this time with my own company and contracting for myself. Day 42 was actually a few days later, after the week of work.
The final count was some ~10,000 miles of driving, 42 sections on 28 rivers, 19 states/provinces visited or driven through, 1 oil change, 12 national parks, and 2 bikes stolen… and to add the cheesy in, countless memories.
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- Five Footer (III+ to IV-). The first small drop is best run on the left. It is about 5 to 6 feet tall. I ran on the right side of the main left channel. There could be a hole here at higher flows. This lands in a pool, and will be where all the tourists first notice you. I remember seeing folks taking selfies and thinking how surprised they would be when they look at it and see me in the pics.
- Entrance (IV). The entrance leads directly to the falls so it should be scouted carefully. How you run it depends on how you will run the falls. At flows lower than mine, I think the right line is the only good one for the falls. This will likely have you enter right through the entrance. Though the left entrance is still possible. The left entrance had a bigger hole but a nice boof spot to launch over it. The right was shallower for sure.
Falls (IV+ to V-). It is pretty straight forward, but, I don’t think you want to pencil and you don’t want to completely mess up where you launch it. The left line was a nice shear edge to boof 2 boat widths off the left wall of the main flow. At high flows I would error to the right and get more of the flake as the left could form a pocket. The right line landed in 4 feet of gross foam so I didn’t want that line. But there is a small deeper channel that ramps to free fall going right of center to the right landing in an eddy over there… in the foam.
- Exit (IV- to IV+). From pictures I expected this to be worse than it was. Actually, until I scouted at river level I thought it looked bad. At river level on the left, I could see the angle of the ramp was gentler than I thought and the window was bigger. So I ran left to far right to hit the far right window. The other 80% of the river is backed up and has a big boil and hole. It would not be good to get stuck in there. Especially solo.
Take-out/Put-in: They are on in the same as the run is so short. You park in the parking area and walk up to the top, and then at the end, walk back to your car. To get to the parking area, Put into google “Falls Park Visitor Center Sioux Falls” and it will take you to the parking area in the park, in the middle of Sioux Falls South Dakota.
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